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Gold Fields Limited's proposed 40 MW solar PV plant at its South Deep gold mining operation in Gauteng, South Africa may finally see the light of day. The electricity sub-committee of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), at its virtual meeting on February 5 recommended the company's license application for approval by the Energy Regulator.
Gold Fields has been looking to set up the solar plant since 2017. The South Deep mining operation is highly energy-intensive and the company wants to reduce its carbon footprint as well as mitigate the power supply problems from the South African grid. According to a Gold Fields presentation in 2019, power tariffs had surged 500% over the past 11 years, while the industry suffered frequent rotating power curtailments.
However, the Gold Fields solar proposal has been winding its way through South Africa's labyrinthine licensing system for the past three years. The application has become a poster child for illustrating how challenging it is to get a generation license after navigating Nersa's bureaucratic and cumbersome processes. Ironically, during the same period, Gold Fields has completed the construction of a 23 MW renewables plant at its Agnew gold mine, in Western Australia.
Meanwhile, Eskom, the South African public energy utility, has veered around to the idea of lifting the licensing threshold from 1 MW to 50 MW, provided its interest is safeguarded through tariff reforms. Eskom's change in stance has been welcomed by the mining industry, the Energy Intensive Users Group of Southern Africa, and the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA).
The Gold Fields solar proposal is now likely to be considered at the next meeting of the Energy Regulator, scheduled for February 25.